The following article originally appeared in the Dawson Creek newspaper Peace River Block Daily News
Emile and Johnny Laloge By Cees Mond, PRBN Staff
The Pouce Coupe Laloge family has always been one of few words. Not much time was wasted on pondering. If things had to be done, they had to be done.
So, when at age 27, Emile Laloge realized in September 1939 that not all was well in Europe, he didn’t have to think twice.
“I was young then and looking for excitement,” says Emile who at the time was working in a mine south of Port Alberni.
“I came off a shift at 11 o’clock at night and the superintendent says, ‘Britain has declared war to Germany.’ I took my boots off and kicked them across the room and said, ‘I’ll join the army tomorrow.’ “
Two of his colleagues agreed and announced they, too, would join the armed forces.
He left Canada in December of 1939. On his way to the east coast, he stopped in Edmonton on Dec. 15 to get his picture taken. His brother Johnny smiles. He remembers the picture that arrived at home as a bit of a shock to the family. “It was only then we knew he was in the army,” he says.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 29, 1939, Emile landed in (Gourock), Scotland and got his training there and all over England. He got his first battle experience in North Africa, he figures it must have been 1943, with the 1st Battalion Royal (Lancashire) Regiment.
Now 86, Emile’s memories are sketchy, but he knows he didn’t stay very long there, and he did switch armies. “I got out of the (Second) British Army in North Africa and I went to the Seaforth First Division holding unit. I think I was there seven days when the war finished,” Emile says. That was in Tunisia. “The holding unit was to be shipped out in the morning, but the general (McNaughton) sent me back to England.”
Emile remained there and worked as a field tactical instructor for new recruits who hadn’t seen any battle yet. The day after D-Day, on June 7, 1994, Emile was shipped over to France. On Oct. 22, he moved to the Calgary Highlanders. “I was with them until they sent me home in April ’45.”
Between October and April, there was quite a number of battles still to be won. Emile was in the the Battle of (Walcheren Causeway) for which he got the DCM, the Distinguished Conduct Medal. (Laloge in fact distinguished himself by throwing German grenades back at the throwers, as well as repairing support weapons under fire – see the page on Walcheren Causeway for more details.)
Then….he fought in Germany, in Kleve and Wyler. It was in the Battle of Wyler, Feb. 6, 1945, that he had to take out a German 88 gun that had been bothering the troops. “They sent eight guys in there and they were fiddling around and around. Then the colonel sent my platoon in to take out the 88.”
Emile wastes few words. “We took the 88 out and we took 12 prisoners.
For that achievement, Emile was awarded the MM, Military Medal.
“Two or three days after, I got sent back to the holding unit in (Nijmegen). From there, I got sent (home).
Because Emile had been in the war since before 1940, he qualified to be sent back to Canada even before the war was finished.
“I’d been there five years and all the old guys were sent back,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. “They said, ‘Get in this jeep. Your fighting days are over. We’re fed up with you.'” He laughs.
During his stay in England, Emile had been on leave in Scotland and met a girl by the name of Betty Tighe in Glasgow. They got married on Nov. 24, 1941.
Johnny remembers that too. He says he visited them in Scotland shortly after the wedding while on leave himself. When Emile went back to Pouce Coupe, Betty went there too. “Betty got there a week before I did,” Emile says.
Betty and Emile lived in Vancouver for a year where Emile worked for the Liquor Control Board. They then came back to Pouce Coupe where Emile did all kinds of work. He had a concrete business, then trucked some oil equipment and he also operated a trucking line between Dawson Creek and Grande Prairie, hauling cream cans to Grande Prairie, pick up freight there and drive back.
Later, the family moved to Westbank in the Okanagan. Now, they’re retired in Kelowna.
Now it’s Johnny’s turn to talk. Johnny had taken up flying in 1937 already, under the British Empire Air Training Scheme in Grande Prairie. As the war in Europe progressed, he started getting itchy. “In June 1940, I decided to go to Edmonton to see why I wasn’t called up,” he says. “I got there and on July 2, got into the recruiting office, only to find out I was colorblind and they wouldn’t let me fly,” he says. He hitchhiked back to Pouce Coupe and a week later, there was a recruiting drive for a new division in the Peace River country.
On July 24, Johnny joined “with all the rest of the guys around here” in the Canadian Engineers. Seventy-five people signed up that day, he remembers. Johnny ended up in what became the 10th Field Squadron. He went to Calgary for training, at the Mewata Barracks, then went to Lethbridge and finally to Petawawa, Ont., where he stayed until around November 1, 1941. From Halifax, he then sailed on the Reno Del Pacifico to Liverpool where he landed Nov. 11. He trained in Liverpool and then went to Aldershot.
“That was a big military base with thousands and thousands of troops,” Johnny remembers.
In October 1943, Johnny went to Italy. With the engineers, his task was to build bridges where there were none. In December 1943, his unit helped a New Zealand division build a bridge across the Avantino. In May 1944, with the First Division, Johnny was in the Battle of the Liri Valley. “That lasted four days — then I got shot,” he says.
Johnny explains he was sent with his group to the 8th New Brunswick Hussars. “During the advance, a machine gunner shot me (in the hand). I was in the hospital for six weeks.” Today, there’s still lead in his fingers, he says, but it could have been a lot worse, judging from the position and angle he was shot from. “Another half an inch and they would’ve chopped my head off,” he says.
A couple of months later, Johnny found himself back on the front, but left the Ravenna area in January 1945. “We went to the mouth of the Tiber, near Rome, to do training.” Johnny’s unit built pontoon Bailey rafts, bridges built from floating pontoons which were a lot faster to set up than conventional bridges. Then it was back to the front, but “instead of going to the Po River, we found ourselves in Leghorn (Livorno) and discovered the whole army was on the move and we went to Marseille in Southern France.”
The advance then was fast, and in April 1945, Johnny arrived in Nimegen, only to find out his brother Emile had left just a week earlier. For Johnny the war wasn’t over yet, though. While Holland was freed in June 1945, He didn’t leave until December that year, but still didn’t get his discharge papers. He went to the Yukon and worked there from April to October 1946 on No. 2 road maintenance. By then, the army was downsizing considerably and he came home. Like his brother Emile, Johnny also brought a bride back from Europe. He met Ruth Carter in Wallingford, England where his unit was training. She was a Londoner evacuated to Wallingford with her family, and Johnny met her at a dance.
The couple got married on July 3, 1943, but Ruth didn’t come to Pouce Coupe until August 1946.
Johnny bought the Becker Store in Pouce Coupe and ran it for seven years, meanwhile keeping true to his engineering by building railroad trestles, in 1951 in Dawson Creek and in 1952 in Pouce Coupe. In 1953, they moved to Vancouver where Johnny joined the piledrivers union with which he worked until his retirement. Emile and Johnny are only two of the four Laloge brothers who helped in the war effort. All of them came back to Pouce Coupe, although not completely unhurt. “My ears have been ringing ever since the Battle of the Liri Valley,” Johnny says.
He blames youngest brother Marc’s death in 1992 to old war injuries. Marc was shot down in a plane over Dusseldorf, Germany in June 1943 and held prisoner. His plane got coned (in the search lights) and hit at 20,000 feet, Johnny tells. It came down to about 18,000 feet when the plane blew up, and Marc, unconscious, woke up while falling down. “He pulled a rip cord, swung a couple of times and hit the ground. Johnny says Marc estimated he was unconscious for about 16,000 feet. In April 1945 the Russians liberated him and he came back to Pouce Coupe.
Another brother, Yves, was also in the army but never made it overseas because his hearing was damaged from a mine blast in Yellowknife before the war.
In 1994, Johnny was chosen to represent the engineers on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Italy. “An engineer there told me they still had one of our bridges, across the Lamone River — they killed three of our men there,” he adds in a somber voice. “They walked across a dike there and a shell hit them from behind.” Johnny got the Military Medal for the work his section did to get the tanks across a stream so they could catch up with the infantry. He’s also got the Mention in Dispatches, MiD, “for first aid work when a shell hit the tree and killed six. That was a bad day — the first time in, December 1943 — green as grass.”
If there’s one thing Johnny regrets its that he wished he knew then what he knows now.
- “You develop more knowledge — I could’ve saved more people too.”
- “In the morning, I was the only one who went,” Emile laughs.
Emile went to the Seaforth Armoury in Vancouver and joined the Seaforth Highlanders.